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David Littman's Blog: The truth about cliches, Pt. 1

David Littman was drafted in the 11th round (211 overall) by the Sabres in 1987. (THN Archives)

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David Littman was drafted in the 11th round (211 overall) by the Sabres in 1987. (THN Archives)

In December, NHL 10, the game I work on at Electronic Arts, won the Sports Video Game of the Year award on Spike TV.

I flew to Los Angeles and accepted the award on stage with former NHL player and Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille. Luc said a few words and got some big cheers from the Kings fans in the audience.

When it was my turn, I thanked my team and talked about what it took to put out such a successful game year after year. This was our second year in a row winning this award, beating out incredible competition in video games like Madden football and FIFA soccer.

When I sat down, it all struck me as very familiar. What I said on stage was almost exactly what I used to say to reporters after winning hockey games. The lessons I learned during my hockey career were the foundation for success for the rest of my life.

Many reporters will probably say hockey players are boring interviews, but there is a rhyme and reason to the cliches. So, here are some of the most boring hockey player quotes heard in the dressing room and what they mean in the real world. There’s a bunch of them, so we’ll do half this week and half next.
 
“It was a total team effort”
For me, this is the most important quote of all. In almost all business I’ve been involved in, the best teams win. There’s no room for selfish people and big egos.

Everyone on a team plays a different role and there will be superstars and role players, but no single person is ever more important than the team.

It’s what makes hockey players the most unselfish athletes in the world and it is precisely the same attitude needed to be successful in the real world. No one person on our NHL development team takes credit for our success.
 
“The only thing that counts is the two points”
It doesn’t matter if the score is 8-7 or 1-0, it’s all about winning the game. Results matter…always. You can have a great team full of great people, but if you don’t win, changes will be made.

There are many reasons teams don’t win – lack of talent, laziness or bad leadership to name a few. If you don’t make changes as soon as possible, it can lead to team complacency and before you know it your business is tanking.

We have had to make some changes over the past few years at EA Sports to keep on winning.
 
“We gave 110 percent out there”
I know…it’s impossible to actually give 110 percent, but it sounds better than 100 percent. Hard work is just as important in the real world as it is on the ice.

Our software engineers on the game are some of the hardest workers in the industry and it really shows up in the product. It is not uncommon to see our engineers here late into the night working hard to make the game the best it can be.
 
“Gotta keep our heads on a swivel”
Every hockey coach says this one before a game. You need to always keep an eye on the opposing team. If you lose sight of even one of them, that’s when they’re going to get open and put the puck in your net.

Related Links

In the video game industry, you need to keep tabs on your competitors at all times. Never underestimate your opponent. Do as much research as possible, always be on the lookout for the latest ideas and trends, and never rest on your laurels. If you do, your competitor will be there with a better and more innovative product.
 
“We capitalized on all our chances”
Sometimes your team gets outshot 35-15, but you still win the game 3-2 because when you had a good chance to score, you buried it.

In the real world, you might only get one or two shots at something, so you better take advantage of it. I got my start in the video game industry because I called the head of the EA studios in Orlando and got a job as a game-tester.

I knew I had to make an impact right away, because it might be my only chance to get into the industry. Six months later I was offered a producer job on NHL.
 
“Our goalie kept us in there tonight”
Some games, a team just doesn’t have it. A team can’t be great every single night. It’s on those nights when a team member needs to bail out the rest of the guys.

Sometimes it’s the goalie, sometimes it’s a fourth-liner who steps up and scores a clutch goal. At some point, each and every team member will have the opportunity to be the hero and step in when needed.

On more than one occasion at EA, a newly hired game-tester found a bug we all missed and saved us a lot of embarrassment.
 
“We need to get back to the fundamentals”
Slumps are tough to get out of. Every player and team has one at some point. Get back to the basics. Finish your checks. Shoot and crash the net.

I’ve seen the same thing with our video games. I worked on a couple of NHL games back in 2005 and 2006 that were not rated very highly. In 2007, the leadership team sat down and we decided we needed to get back to basics.

Our games were using poorly designed gimmicky features and it needed to stop. We needed to do the fundamentals correctly. We redesigned skating, shooting, deking and goaltending. That was the year that broke the slump. Since 2007, we’ve won more than 20 Sports Game of the Year awards.

A native of Flushing, N.Y., David Littman was drafted by the Sabres in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He spent four years at Boston College before turning pro in 1989. Over the next 10 years, Littman would play in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL (with Buffalo and Tampa Bay). The 40-year-old currently works as a producer for the wildly popular EA Sports NHL series of video games. Read his other blogs HERE.

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